Stay awhile and listen!

Warning: picture heavy. Mobile users beware.

Today the family unit took a trip to Riveaulx Abbey. I saw it mentioned on Twitter a while back and realised it was fairly close to where we live, so we decided to go. It was such a nice day for it, as well, it seemed a shame to spend the day moping and playing rock, paper, scissors over who has to do the chores.*

So, we drove up to Helmsley. Well. We drove up to Malton, got diverted by a closed road and went in a big circle but eventually we got to Helmsley. Lots of narrow roads, lots of 14% inclines – before we did anything else I had to go sit in the cafe.


After a spot of rejuvenating tea, we made our way out to the abbey itself.


It is massive. Even with all the drawings and plans mounted around the place, we struggled to imagine what it would have looked like when it was complete. It’s just so big! There’s an exhibition centre off to the right of the path that starts off talking about how the lives of monks were austere and spartan at first, but after a couple of centuries they just went wild. Wild for a Cistercian monk, that is.

The audio guide was good, but I was so disappointed to discover that no-one had slipped a Diablo gag into it. Not even a whiff of impeity!


Aoife was so impressed.


Yeah. So she’s a bit young for it just yet. I was impressed. Everything about the place just screams “epic sword fight AND/OR spooky ghost location”.


Ghosts! Sword fights! Inexplicable inclusion of kung fu and parkour moves! Lightning!


We even found the remains of the stairwell from the Kurgan/Ramirez fight from Highlander.


Bonus Aoife picture!


I thought it was unusual that the website listed the cafe as one of the high points of the giant ruined abbey, but it was. Giant pot of tea! Chutney and brown sauce made at the abbey! Local bacon and sausages! One of the staff coming out of the kitchen and taking Aoife for a walk so that we could eat in peace! Brilliant stuff.

As a special treat, Lisa bought me a notebook that I intend to use as a bible for all the random fantasy novel worldbuilding facts that I think up.


Just look at it! Notebooooook. So exciting.



So, yeah! Lots of fun. Next time, Castle Howard!

*spoiler: me. I do.

What we need is harmony, fresh air. Stuff like that.

As Lisa is on maternity leave and the school holidays were upon us, we decided to go for a long holiday to see Lisa’s family in Sweden. Two weeks in Stockholm, and two weeks in the north with her grandparents (Aoife’s great-grandparents, which is something I find quite boggling even though it’s perfectly ordinary).

So, the first lesson we learned was that we should really travel/fly in the morning. Aoife sleeps really well through early car journeys and flights, and screams the house down if you try to travel later. We set off early enough to experience the entire range of this spectrum on our trip out (and the same on returning).

Still, we arrived to a bright and sunny Sweden that was as hot as the UK, but far less muggy, and since I had just come out of hospital after a bout of general not-fun-ness, I decided to take it easy.



We caught up with Lisa’s nieces, introduced everyone to Aoife, and generally lapsed into the standard procedure for almost all of our holidays at Lisa’s parents – a carefully-managed schedule of meals and fika (coffee and cake breaks) with occasional bouts of sleep.

OH. This reminds me. If you have a Sonos sound system, DO NOT give anyone else access to the controls. We had a family barbecue one evening that drove me insane as there were at least four people all trying to put music on at the same time. Four hours of ten-second bursts of music followed by “oh I want to hear this” /cut to next song.

Then, knowing my penchant for sunbathing, we all went to the beach. It was very relaxing.


We were so tired from pushing the swings, that Aoife and I went straight to bed.


So then we went to the north! Not wanting to put too much of a strain on Lisa’s grandparents, we stayed in a cabin in the woods. It looked like this:


The view was like this:


The forest leading to it like this:


…and here was the toilet.


Now while this all looks lovely and idyllic, getting up at two in the morning and stumbling through the blue-touched summer darkness to use the loo was a terrifying business. Things were constantly moving in the undergrowth and even though I knew they were just forest animals, it sounded like someone was creeping towards the cabin. I’ve seen Dead Snow! I know what happens when you use the outdoor loo.

One thing I wanted to do was to buy a couple of mannequins and prop them up in the treeline just past the toilet so that the next person to use the cabin would get the fright of their life. Understandably, I was vetoed on this.

There is not a lot to actually do when you’re in a cabin in the woods, so I read a bunch of books and did some serious editing on a manuscript. It was nice and quiet and the internet was close to non-existent, so I got through a lot on both counts. I think The Long Price Quartet only lasted me two or three days.

The desk in the cabin, plus view:


And a new friend to keep me company:


Other things we did:

We went to Hulkoff farm, which has a lovely guesthouse and a restaurant that has been in Sweden’s White Guide (list of best restaurants) for the past 5-6 years running. They raise Charolais cows which end up on the menu as unbelievably delicious sirloin steaks. I adore places where there is a set menu, but those three dishes are made to such a standard that you’re glad they did it. They also had a ridiculously massive sauna which we made good use of, although this did end up with Lisa’s dad and grandfather accidentally locking themselves outside the guesthouse, naked.

Accidentally. Uh huh. We did wonder why the cows all sounded so upset.

After that we came back to Stockholm for a few days, and then home. It was a fun holiday, although a month was perhaps too long. The garden and house were a state when we got back and it’s taken a couple of days to restore a little normality into our lives. Still, it was nice to have the break. Now, back to the writing!


He did not choose the hug life. The hug life chose him.


The one thing I will remember most about Milo is that he spent more time on his back than standing up. We had a ritual, he and I, one that we would do in the mornings when Lisa had already got out of bed and I was determinedly lying under the duvet pretending that the morning just wasn’t happening.

He would come into the bedroom, jump onto the bed, and with an inquisitive chirrup (he rarely meowed), flip onto his back and offer up his belly for rubbing. I would lie in bed, alternately rubbing and clapping him on the belly, and he would look into my eyes with a calm, regal acceptance, as though this was his due. Sometimes, he would get a bit too excited and something would stick its head out into the morning air, but we were both gentlemen of the world and silently agreed not to mention it.


I wasn’t ready for it. I had imagined he and I sharing that moment for years to come. When I was writing, he would curl up at my feet and fall asleep, or in my lap. In the week before he died, I actually zipped him up inside my hoodie, and he purred deep and low against my chest.

We’ll never know what it was. Either the heart murmur that the vet suspected (but could never confirm), or the remnants of cat flu that had left him constantly snuffling ever since he came home with us. All I know is that when I found him, I thought he was asleep.

I hope it was a good dream.


Owl-stretching Time

For Lisa’s birthday, I bought her – amongst other things – a half day’s owl handling at the Falconry Centre near Thirsk. Lisa likes owls, which means that every birthday or Christmas she gets at least one owl-themed thing from someone in her immediate family. Obviously I had to get in on the action.

Warning: extremely picture-heavy post follows. Mobile internet users beware!

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We should’ve named one “Buck”.

Today, we drove down to Outgate Poultry and bought ourselves some chickens. It had to happen, really. We had already spent almost £400 on an Eglu, and God only knows how much else on bedding, feed, grit, diatomaceous earth and other chicken-keeping necessities and sundries that would have made not buying chickens a financial disaster.

The smallholding we bought them from was a little bit far away, but it was really worth making the trip down there because the guy running the place was very experienced and very helpful. We arrived nice and early, and he was able to give us lots of advice on settling the chickens in and looking after them – much of it both of us had read already, but it was nice to hear it confirmed and to get the chance to ask questions.

What I wasn’t aware of when we bought our three birds is that they are self-packing:


The Blue on the right is called Kerrigan, Queen of Blades. The Black, below and on the left is Commander Shepard. The youngest bird, the Ranger at the top, is Alexstrasza the Life-Binder.

Yes, we are that sad.

When we got home we gave them a quick chance to run around a little (an hour in a cardboard box can’t be good for anyone’s nerves) and then picked them up (took one or two goes to get hold of Alexstrasza) and put them in the run. They need to stay in there for a few days at first so that they become habituated to living in the coop and run. Eventually they’ll get command of the whole garden but this first bit of captivity is essential, apparently.

I might let them out for a little bit later on, though.


Kerrigan and Alexstrasza check out their new house. I went out to check on them a few minutes ago and discovered Shepard squatting obstinately in the nesting box, Kerrigan trying to take all of the bedding out one piece at a time and Alexstrasza trying to devour the same leaf she had been picking at three-quarters of an hour earlier.


Shepard staring intently at a piece of completely featureless land trying to find something of worth. Kind of like the mining in Mass Effect 2, really.

Newark Air Museum. Oh, and a short Sunday run.

So, we went down to Newark this weekend for the half marathon.

While we were in town, though, Alistair was quite keen on seeing the Air Museum.  And when I say excited, I’m not kidding.


At a little over six quid to get in, it was somewhat pricey, but nevertheless a very interesting wander round was had.

Continue reading “Newark Air Museum. Oh, and a short Sunday run.”

Beethoven’s Fifth, the new soundtrack to my life.

One of the birthday cards I got last week is a musical one.  It plays about sixteen or so bars of Beethoven’s fifth, lifted from a 2002 performance by the Royal Philharmonic.  I now use it to add dramatic weight to even the most mundane of sentences.

“Want a cup of tea?” DA DA DA DUUUUUUM!   DA DA DA DUUUUUM!

Brilliant.  I’m certain Lisa isn’t quite so enamoured as she was the first fifteen times I did it.

Right now I’m registering and installing the software that came with my camera.  It’s probably not worth the install but my computer is so application-light that I might as well do it anyway.  it makes me feel as though I’m actually using the system as something other than Firefox-in-a-box through which I get my daily dose of “news”.  Today’s “news”, of course, is that a fuck-and-tell blogger with associated book and t.v. deal has revealed her identity to prevent being outed by the Daily Mail.

It’s a laudable aim, I suppose, but that won’t really stop all the students in her department looking at her funny and swapping comments about being “well-travelled” and/or the possession of physiological features that resemble the top end of a wellington boot.

Next week, I suppose, she’ll be telling the papers about how telling the papers has affected her life or some other shit that supposedly eases her conscience and increases understanding but really just pads out her bank balance a little more and makes everyone around her increasing discomfited.

Back on the software thing, I’ve just clicked on my fourth licence agreement during this install.  That can’t be right, can it?  Four licences for one program…or maybe it’s a bundle of programs.  They’re taking long enough to get on the system.  I should’ve just stuck with MS paint.  That’s about my level.

One save draft and a reboot later, and I’m uploading images to Flickr.  Woo, and indeed, yay.  While that interminable process grinds away, I should probably go over what Alistair got me for my birthday.  First up, a bottle of Glengoyne 10 y.o. single malt, which is nice, although I haven’t tasted it yet.  We had a cocktail and a bottle of wine with dinner at Alistair’s on Saturday night and I’m such a lightweight that I had to stop drinking right after dinner to make sure I’d be fit to drive the next day.  It’s not something to be really proud of, that I just can’t drink beyond a certain point anymore, but it’s better that I’m upfront about it.  Not vomiting for the entire day afterwards is a reward in itself.

He also bought me some books: The Stuff of Thought by Steve Pinker, Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, The Elements of Style by Strunk Jr. and White, and a digital photography book.  The last one I’m not going to link due to me encountering a vicious dislike of the author on opening the book.  He spends a good five pages right at the start promoting his other books, website, newsletter, promotions, etc, and therefore really doesn’t need any help from this quarter.

Hrm.  65% uploaded.  What else can I talk about?

Doctor Who, oh yes.  Spoilers after the jump.

Continue reading “Beethoven’s Fifth, the new soundtrack to my life.”

Italy – land of scary drivers and excellent food.

So I’m not really planning on doing any big holiday report posts for the ‘blog.

However, I guess a quick pick of the photos and a short set of accompanying text might be edifying.  I’ll link the full Flickr set of images at the end for anyone who’s interested.

Continue reading “Italy – land of scary drivers and excellent food.”